Sisal, Camera trapping & Elephants
Report by International Intern, Clara Moore
Just on the other side of the rolling, green Sagalla hill range that the Elephants and Bees team calls home lays the Taita Sisal Estate. Being partially managed by E&B’s close friends Kevin and Jen Carr-Hartley, we had the opportunity to visit this neighboring estate and learn about sisal as a drought-resistant crop. Being one of the largest sisal estates in the world and the biggest in East Africa, you cannot miss the landscape change as you drive up to the 32,000-acre estate.
The green plant, contrasting with the red soil that makes the Tsavo area so iconic, creates a sudden and dramatic change in the landscape and spreads out as far as the eye can see. Sisal is a type of agave, originally native to Mexico, which has large fleshy leaves that are cultivated for fiber production. These fibrous strings are typically used to make rope, sacks, bags, baskets, mats, and baling twine. Although at first glance sisal may seem like just another cash crop, with the severe drought the area is in the midst of and the imminent upcoming ban of plastic bags in Kenya (yay for conservation!) we began to see just how truly beneficial this drought-resistant crop could be for the Kenyan economy and how little of an environmental impact it makes compared to other cash crops. This is all due to the fact that it requires almost no water for growth and cultivation and can be used to make cheap and durable reusable bags and baskets.
After learning about the sisal estate, we got down to some more elephant related business! One of many wonderful things that the Carr-Hartleys have done in their 7 years helping to manage the Taita Sisal Estate is to create a 6000 acre wildlife reserve on the land bordering the south side of the sisal property. This sanctuary holds two precious dams, which are the only permanent water sources between Tsavo East National Park and Tsavo West National Park.
Recently we had received reports from them that some released orphans from the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust reintegration unit in Tsavo East National Park had been seen drinking out of the water hole in their reserve. With the reintegration unit and release point for the orphans being on the E&B’s side of the Sagalla hills and the elephants being spotted on the other side of the hills by the sisal estate, we began to realize that we could be on opposite sides of an extremely important elephant corridor or migratory route between the two sides of the national park! With a vastly growing human population increasing land use and the opportunities for human-wildlife conflict, wildlife corridors are more important than ever to recognize and conserve before wildlife habitats become permanently fragmented due to human encroachment. In order to have relevant data to prove that the area between the Elephants and Bees Research center going around the hills to the Sisal Estate wildlife reserve is an elephant corridor, we need hard evidence that the same elephants have been spotted in both locations.
To begin this process of identification we decided that camera traps would be our most efficient tools. As we already have camera traps set up at the farms around our research center to monitor crop-raiders and the effectiveness of the beehive fences, we decided to deploy two at the water hole of the Carr-Hartleys. Having camera traps on either end of the supposed corridor means we can begin to evaluate individual elephants and determine whether elephants are in fact moving from one side of Sagalla to the other using this specific path. By beginning to gather photographic evidence of this critical corridor and being able to correctly ID individuals we can hopefully make moves in the near future to protect the corridor, ensuring that elephants and other wildlife can move freely with minimized possibilities for human-wildlife conflict.